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The Democrats and Iraq

September 26, 2007 |  3:21 am

The early debates among the Democratic presidential candidates were dominated by a look back when the topic turned to Iraq. Barack Obama proudly, and frequently, noted that as an Illinois state senator, he opposed the war from the get-go.

Some of his rivals --- who, unlike Obama, had to make votes in Congress that counted on the issue --- ruefully expressed their regret for backing the resolution that authorized the attack. And all waited in vain for Hillary Clinton to apologize for her vote for the measure.

The dialog has progressed since then. As the candidates gather tonight at Dartmouth University for their latest face-off (televised on MSNBC), the verbal dueling can be expected to focus --- as it has of late --- on which Democrat has the best plan and is the best equipped to extricate the U.S. from Iraq.

Clinton continues to frustrate some party activists by avoiding details; her main position is that if President Bush doesn't wind down the war during the rest of his watch, she will upon taking the helm. Expect her to be pressed for more specifics tonight by her opponents, and expect her to give absolutely no ground.

Bill Richardson, as illustrated by a new campaign ad, has been making an especially aggressive bid for support from antiwar bloggers. Expect him to enthusiastically continue that effort tonight. But expect Chris Dodd to pursue a new line of attack he launched this week on Richardson's claim that he would leave "zero" troops in Iraq. And Obama, no doubt, will promote the end-the-war plan he recently outlined.

Even as he does so, however, it remains clear that he still is not ready to completely let the past be forgotten. His campaign has announced that a series of rallies will be held next Tuesday to mark the fifth-year anniversary of the speech he gave, at a demonstration in Chicago, publicly opposing the use-of-force resolution in Iraq that Congress was about to approve. As the Chicago Tribune's Christi Parsons aptly phrased it in a blog item, the date "is a high holy day in the calendar" of Obama's supporters.

Three of the rallies are set for California --- the gatherings in Los Angeles and Sacramento are scheduled for noon (PDT), in San Diego the start time is 5 p.m.

--- Don Frederick